Dean Mercer: Mates look back on his final days
IF you ever needed a reminder of how quickly life can change - and how bloody cruel it can be - look no further than the smile on Deano's dial less than two weeks ago.
There he is, back where it all began. The Austinmer ocean pool, a couple of kays up the road from Thirroul, the beachside northern suburb of Wollongong where a couple of boys called Mercer found their feet and built a legend, The Gold Coast Bulletin reports.
There he is having an end-of-winter dip with his old man, his big bro and his beautiful niece. That water would freeze the nuts off a brass monkey but four wider smiles you never did see.
Two weeks ago. Two weeks to go from life is beautiful to life's a bitch.
The Mercer boys were back home for a funeral. Sweet old Nanna Jessie. The matriarch of the clan. John's mum. Dean and Darren's grandmother. Jordan's great-grandma.
Funerals are never easy but at least Nanna Jessie got to live the life she was meant to.
In her 94 years, she got to witness her son start a family of his own. She got to see her grandsons not just learn to swim but learn to swim damn fast. She got to nurse a great-granddaughter known as Jordie before being blessed to watch her blossom into a woman.
Nanna Jessie's longevity meant she was farewelled with tears but not anguish.
Indeed her passing was a rare chance for a busy family to come together for a few days and take stock of what matters in life - loved ones, good times, memories, dreams and the odd swim in the Austinmer ocean pool.
Deano drove out of his home town for what would be the last time on the Sunday. A flight was waiting in Sydney with six seats booked in the name of Mercer - Dean, Reen, Brayden, Rory, Lachlan and Joshua.
The ironman legend and his legendary ironwoman wife lived for their sons. Aged 6 to 13, they were 'The Mercer Boys', a four-strong posse of youthful exuberance that had the ability to stand out in any crowd.
And so it proved on that Sunday afternoon when a Melbourne-bound Jonathan Crowe wandered into the Qantas Club at Sydney Airport to find a myriad of Mercers awaiting their own flight.
"I thought 'What are the chances'," the former champion ironman said of what started as a random encounter but would soon take on a whole lot more significance.
"(Dean and I) competed against each other since we were five and six in the nippers … when I was younger I used to stay in Thirroul with his mum and dad and the years we were doing the Nutri-Grain (ironman series) we were spending six to eight hours together six to seven days a week."
They grew up as mates. They trained together for a couple of decades. They raced each other for national and world titles.
Then life came along - mortgages, kids, real jobs - and they hadn't seen each other for a while. There was plenty to catch up on.
"We sat and had a laugh for about an hour," Crowe told the Illawarra Mercury. "We had a couple of beers and talked about the old times … (Deano) has a great sense of humour."
All good things come to an end. Crowe farewelled Deano with a hug. He told him how good it was to see him after all this time. He flew south. The Mercers flew north.
Crowe's phone rang little more than 12 hours later. It was another former ironman. What Phil Clayton told him defied belief.
Deano was dead.
It started as a seemingly run-of-the-mill radio traffic report.
Monday morning. Just before seven. "A car has gone through the fence of a home at Mermaid Waters. Now for the weather."
Then word filtered through that the driver was in a bad way. A cardiac arrest. Possibly a death. There was talk of it being an elite athlete. Next came the name and finally the confirmation.
Dean Mercer. Forty-seven. A husband. A father to four young boys.
"I only saw him last night," said a shell-shocked Barry Newman, one of the coaches Deano oversaw as director of surf sports at Kurrawa SLSC.
"I picked him up from the airport. I picked the whole family up. They'd been with his mum and dad for a funeral. I think they were off to the snow next weekend."
Instead of a trip to the snow, Reen and her boys found themselves in an even colder place - a world without the man they treasured more than any other.
Loved ones descended on the family home. Darren and wife Tiana arrived from Noosa within hours and didn't leave for days. Surf lifesaving media man Ian Hanson fronted the cameras time and again. Friends did everything they could, all the while wishing they could do even more.
Then there was Jordie, poor heartbroken Jordie who had to leave her shattered family a mere three days after being told her uncle and mentor was gone.
Why? Because it's what Deano would have wanted, her destination the world paddleboard titles in Denmark.
"Thank you for being with me Uncle Deano," she wrote on Facebook after being crowned a world champion last Sunday. "I hope I made you proud."
And so we come to today's funeral, a final tribute in a fortnight filled with them.
Only two weeks after coming together to farewell a loved one, the Mercers gather again to say goodbye to one of the special people in their lives.
This time is different though.
This time they need a venue large enough to cater for 2000-plus people.
This time shuttle buses are being put on to bring mourners from the beach to the service.
This time they do so with the heaviest of hearts because a good man has been taken far too soon.
Unlike Nanna Jessie, Dean Mercer only got to live his life for 47 years.
It's unfair, it's frustrating, it's bloody cruel, but one thing that can't be denied is Deano filled those 47 years with so many of the things that matter in life.
Loved ones, good times, memories, dreams - and, of course, the odd swim in the Austinmer ocean pool.